Streamlining the public water supply and sewerage network in Estonia requires more money and time than planned

Toomas Mattson | 1/15/2014 | 11:00 AM

Text size: [-A] [+A]

Language: EST | RUS | ENG

Print | Send to friends

TALLINN 15 January 2014 - The audit carried out by the National Audit Office revealed that despite investing large amounts of money, the state has failed to make the drinking water supply and sewerage systems of all larger urban areas comply with the requirements of the European Union (EU) by the planned deadline, i.e. the end of 2013. The Ministry of the Environment therefore considers it necessary to allocate another 165 million euros of EU support to water infrastructure from 2014-2020. The National Audit Office also finds that more attention should be given to guaranteeing the future maintenance of the drinking water and waste water systems, the establishment or renovation of which cost a lot of money.

Investing large amounts of money in obsolete or non-existing public water supply and sewerage systems has been necessary to provide people with safe and quality drinking water and protect the environment from pollutants. Of all environmental investments, water management is certainly the area that needs considerably more money than any other. Ca. one billion euros has been invested into waste water and drinking water management in Estonia since 2000, which has mostly come from the European Union, but also from the state of Estonia, local authorities and water undertakings.
The audit carried out by the National Audit Office indicated that 409 million euros was allocated for the development of water infrastructure during the EU funding period 2007-2013, which the Ministry of the Environment found would be enough to make the drinking water and waste water systems of large urban areas comply with requirements. The amount actually invested in water infrastructure is even larger than planned (466 million euros), but full compliance with EU requirements was not achieved at the time. The quantities of waste water collected in almost half (44%) of all large waste water collection areas do not meet the requirements. The waste water limit values have repeatedly been exceeded in the waste water treatment plants of half of larger urban areas. This is the situation despite the fact that they had to comply with the requirements of the Urban Waste Water Directive by the end of 2010.
The Ministry of the Environment admits that investments in water infrastructure to ensure compliance with the requirements of the Urban Waste Water Directive and the Drinking Water Directive have turned out to be bigger than initially planned. The reasons for this are the price increase on the construction market and the specification of the initially evaluated quantity of work.
The Ministry of the Environment estimates that another 165 million euros must be invested in the development of the water infrastructure of large urban areas in the next EU budget period 2014–2020 (from the Cohesion Fund). Tens of waste water treatment plants and drinking water processing plants as well as hundreds of kilometres of drinking water and sewerage pipes must be built and reconstructed in larger urban areas for this money. An equivalent amount (167 million euros) should also be invested in the reconstruction of the waste water and drinking water systems of small urban areas. Whilst support in the case of large urban areas is usually received from the EU Cohesion Fund 2014-2020, small urban areas must be financed from other sources, such as the environmental charges paid to the Environmental Investment Centre.
The analysis completed by the National Audit Office indicated that the pollution load of ca. one-fifth of large waste water collection areas may be overestimated. Less strict waste water collection and treatment requirements could have been applied to areas with smaller pollution loads, and the expenditure incurred to achieve compliance with stricter requirements could’ve therefor been avoided.
Director of Audit Tarmo Olgo is of the opinion that the Ministry of the Environment should seriously review the determination of waste water collection areas and the resulting actual investment needs of water management projects. “Support should not be used to establish expensive water management systems in places where alternative and cheaper solutions could be used. When large investment are made, it should not be forgotten that their maintenance will sooner or later be reflected on people’s water bills.”
The National Audit Office is of the opinion that the state and local authorities will have to give serious attention to the maintenance of water infrastructure in urban areas that are small or where population is decreasing. Water infrastructure requires constant skilful operation and maintenance as well as investments. The expenses related to the provision of drinking water and waste water services must be paid by the consumers, i.e. all expenses should be included in the water price. The average price of the water service in Estonia is 2.6 euros/m3. However, this does not include all of the expenses, i.e. the investments made with the help of grants. Water undertakings are of the opinion that including all expenses in the price could increase it by 10-30%, which would make the payment of water bills difficult for people living in smaller urban areas or on low income.
The Ministry of the Environment agreed with most of the conclusions made by the National Audit Office and plans to review waste collection areas in cooperation with local authorities in 2014.
The fact that compliance of the drinking water provided by all public water supply systems has not been achieved is highlighted as a problem in the audit. However, these deviations from the standards are not a health hazard. The specials permits granted to ca. 170 companies for selling drinking water that does not meet all quality requirements expired on 1 January 2014.
The National Audit Office is of the opinion that the Health Board has not been strict enough in demanding that sellers of drinking water make improvements; the deadline for compliance with requirements has been repeatedly extended and it’s unclear how drinking water is guaranteed to the people to whom water undertakings should no longer sell water. The Health Board finds that it is of primary importance that all people have access to drinking water and that supply of drinking water is generally not suspended, unless there is a serious threat to people’s health. The Health Board promises to start supervising problematic water undertakings more efficiently and initiate proceedings against water supply systems that fail to comply with requirements in 2014.

Background

The National Audit Office audited whether the investments made in water management have helped achieve the required quality of waste water treatment and drinking water in the public water supply and sewerage systems, whether the water management infrastructure is sustainable and whether the investments have helped improve the condition of the bodies of water.
There are more than 900 domestic waste water treatment plants in Estonia. 1105 water supply systems were under state supervision. 80% of the population were connected to the sewerage system and 90% to the public water supply system. In Estonia, there are 59 large (pollution load over 2000 population equivalents) and 455 small (pollution load under 2000 population equivalents) waste water collection areas where water must be collected and treated. Waste water collection areas have been formed in densely populated areas and they cover 1.6% of the territory of Estonia. All waste water treatment plants in large waste water collection areas were supposed to be treating waste water according to requirements by the end of 2010. All large water supply systems (over 2000 people) were expected to comply with the drinking water quality parameters by the end of 2008.
Ca. one billion euros has been invested in the water infrastructure of Estonia since 2000. 466 million euros received from the EU Structural Funds was invested in water infrastructure during the European Union (EU) 2007-2013 funding period – this is five times more than invested in waste management and 24 times more than invested in nature conservation.

Toomas Mattson
Head of Communication Service, National Audit Office
+372 640 0777
+372 513 4900
toomas.mattson@riigikontroll.ee
press@riigikontroll.ee
www.riigikontroll.ee
www.facebook.com/riigikontroll
www.twitter.com/riigikontroll

  • Posted: 1/15/2014 11:00 AM
  • Last Update: 8/16/2015 12:10 AM
  • Last Review: 8/16/2015 12:10 AM

*

Additional Materials

Documents

More News